I think I should begin with the fact that my opinions of this $5 Billion USD fine slapped onto Google by the European Union is ever-evolving. However, here’s my opinions based off my understanding.
Google bundles the Play Store with a bunch of Google apps, but the ones particularly in focus are Google Search and Google Chrome. Now, I personally use both services on a day-to-day basis… I have a Chromebook, after all, and use Chrome on my iPhone 6s. Of course I personally benefit from these apps.
However, I also believe in a free market economy with reasonable legislation. I am writing this as I’m listening to Episode 390 of the Android Central Podcast.
The arguments brought up are as follows:
-Google Search is utilized in many aspects of the core Operating System. Many of its features would be broken if this app was just removed.
-Google Chrome is used by millions of apps in the Play Store, Twitter being one of them… removing Chrome would brake all of them.
Now, there are a lot of nuances to this issue that I’m not going to get into right now, however these are the core pieces of the system. I am not going to argue that if you remove these two apps it won’t break the system. It will. Android’s ecosystem was built around these systems.
However, the problem is simple: Both of these apps are proprietary.
Android was built to be an open-source Operating System. It was built to be customizable in a million ways by the end user, even if they wanted to go as far as to root their devices and flash a whole new firmware onto it. This is part of the reason I like Android. However, it’s not like Google can’t make some moves to fix these underlying issues.
Let’s start with Google Search. Yes, it’s true that it’s integrated into many parts of the Android Operating System. But why should Google lock this up? Android does have a built-in settings app. Why not include a “Preferred Search Engine” section there?
Services like Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, Ask, Yandex, and more should be allowed to integrate themselves into the OS. If programmed properly, you would be able to install DuckDuckGo and select it from the Android settings; from then on any part of Android that relied on Google Search would now rely on DuckDuckGo.
I understand 90% of users would not make this switch. But if we’re going to use that as an excuse to not make this change in Android P or Android Q, we might as well abandon Android OS for “Chromephone” devices. Chrome OS was designed completely around Google Chrome and Google Search in the first place.
Next, Google Chrome. You know how on Twitter, when you open a link, it stays within the Twitter app and loads the webpage right then and there?
That’s not because Twitter inserted a Mini WebKit Browser into their app. It’s using a Google Chrome API to load up the website. Yes, it’s very functional and keeps the app working.
Why can’t I change that?
I am able to install a whole new Web Browser (Such as Firefox, Opera, Edge, Puffin, and more) and I am able to set this as a default web browser. But Android also has an Open Source web browser that, for some reason, get’s replaced by Chrome when a phone gets loaded with the Google Play Store.
When you set a default web browser, however, all that does is make it so that when you click a link in an app and it needs to launch the web browser, the default browser is what’s launched. This is expected behavior, after all. On my iPhone, I can’t do that, so whenever I click a link it goes to Safari, despite the fact that I use Chrome. WHY CAN’T I SET THIS??!?
So… why is the API that apps like Twitter uses to get a mini web browser placed inside Chrome… instead of Android? Wouldn’t it make more sense if when the mini web browser loads up, it loads the default web browser you set?
Maybe a browser would need to program itself to be capable to be “Hooked” into, and would need a separate “Hooked Browser” setting in the Android settings. I would actually be okay with that. I would actually want that.
Maybe I prefer to use Chrome as my default web browser and Edge as the Hooked Browser? Who knows. This should be an option.
And of course companies like Samsung would be free to load up their devices with whatever web browser they want to. Maybe the average user would replace it with Chrome. Maybe the average user wouldn’t touch it.
But for the users that would, this should be an option. Again, Android is meant to be an Open Source Operating System.
I understand that the Google Play Store is a proprietary app. This was my initial response to the situation. I was on Google’s side. But maybe Google could do a little more to make their system a little more open. Maybe, just maybe, there should be competition in the App Store market. Competition is, after all, always good.
Maybe there should be more freedom in making forked versions of Android and still being allowed to load it with the Play Store. Maybe Amazon should be allowed to place the Play Store in Fire OS (not that they would).
In the end, however, I still am of the belief that the $5 Billion USD fine is a little much. Is a fine warranted? Yes. Look at the further nuances of the issue, and there are plenty of anticompetitive practices put in place. However, I still think the fine should be lower.
The EU complains that Google hooks Chrome into their Operating System, but Apple does the same thing. I know there’s a reason Apple’s situation is different from Google’s, but the fact is they are doing the same thing. Do you know how many times I click an Amazon link, and it redirects me to Amazon, only to redirect me to Safari? THIS IS SUPER FRUSTRATING!!! It’s not just Amazon, either, but that seems to be the biggest culprit.
I should be allowed to set a default browser in iOS. If the EU is going to fine Google for preloading Chrome into every device with the Play Store and having apps hook themselves into Chrome via their API to make the argument that removing Chrome would break millions of apps a valid argument, I think they should do the same to Apple. Yes, I get there are legal nuances that makes this legal for Apple to do, I get it, but I feel Apple’s practices are very anticompetitive in many aspects.
I want to use Chrome. I can’t set it as the default browser. I want to use Google Assistant. I can’t replace Siri. I want to use Android Messages. iMessage is the only SMS app that’ll work. I want to rent movies from Google Play Movies, or purchase music from Amazon, or purchase a book from Google Play Books, but all of this is locked down so I have to use iTunes to do all this. By the way, all the prices are marked up there.
You’re seriously going to tell me this isn’t anticompetitive practice just because iOS isn’t the majority Operating System in terms of Market Share?
Either enforce the same rules on everyone, or don’t have them at all. I don’t support double standards.